Are We There Yet?: Cartagena, Minca, Santa Marta, La Ciudad Perdida


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South America » Colombia » Magdalena » La Dorada
February 10th 2017
Published: February 10th 2017
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#knockedout
Before departing for the La Ciudad Perdida, we decided to make a stop in a small backpacker town in the Sierra Nevada of Santa Marta. So, after the 4-hour bus ride from Cartagena to Santa Marta, we hopped in a small cab and headed up into the mountains. I had come across Minca while researching what to do while in Colombia but it didn’t make the itinerary until everyone I met who had been there raved about it. The town itself doesn’t really have much to offer, other than the hostels scattered throughout the surrounding jungle. Once we finally arrived in Minca proper, I told our cab driver the name of our hostel and told him to drop us off there. He motioned for me to get out and directed me to a group of guys sitting in front of a convenience store with their motorcycles. Apparently, he couldn’t go any further in the cab and we would have to hop on the back of one of the muchacho’s bikes. So, I got us 3 bikes and off we went. After crossing two mud-pits and a creek on the back of the motos I realized just how necessary the motorcycles were

Hiking in Minca ft. Sexy Sandals
on the terribly maintained rode. Fifteen minutes later, we arrived at the humble camp where we would be staying the night. As we walked in we saw a group of guys hard at work constructing a new sewage tank and were quickly shown around the property by one of the full-time workers. Everything was makeshift at La Fuente but it had everything we needed: a pool (a dammed-up creek), a billiard table, a hot tub, a dining area and a fully stocked bar. Apparently, the arrival tradition was to hop in the hot-tub but unluckily for us the electricity had been out for a few days. After the tour, we put our backpacks in front of our tent and ordered a snack platter for three. Since we hadn’t had anything to eat for breakfast, the platter of homemade cheese, fresh fruit, bread and cold-cuts disappeared much more quickly than our hunger. But we decided that we could wait for dinner and made our way off to the waterfall which was 10 minutes up the road. Thirty minutes into our hike, there was still no sign of a waterfall. So, either their 10 minutes was significantly longer than our 10 minutes

Incredible View from Casa Elemento
or we had made a mistake. A few minutes later a group of backpackers headed down the mountain informed us that the waterfall was back the way we came from. We thanked them and continued walking up the mountain another 100 meters before turning around because Aya didn’t want to walk the rest of the way down with them. We did end up finding the waterfalls and used it as an opportunity to refresh ourselves in the cold water.

Once back at the camp, I started acquainting myself with the camp dynamics. The owner Chris was British and former ship captain who had opened up La Fuente a few years before with some locals. He and his Australian friend (Less memorable, I forget his name) were the permanent gringos who ran the camp and gave instructions to the 7 or so volunteers. The volunteers would help maintain the camp and in return be given housing (a tent) and food. They were all guys, mostly from the U.K. and Australia but there was also one Dutch guy, Boris, and an artsy German dude, Michael. They all raved about life at La Fuente and most of them had cancelled their other

Aya's last smile on the trek
travel plans to stay there. Even though the place was cool for a night or two I didn’t quite get the draw to the jungle life. Talking to them was definitely an interesting part of the experience though and at times I felt like I was talking to the real life lost boys from Peter Pan.

At dinner that night we sat at a candlelit table with a French woman, her daughter and an older French man, who was traveling solo. While the French women did not talk much (probably because of their lack of English) the French man had a lot of interesting things to share. He only traveled alone and only to places that he deemed exotic. He shared with us that he spent his morning on the back of a motorcycle for four and a half hours because he wanted to reach one of the two snowy peaks in the Sierra Nevadas of Santa Marta. In everything he said you could feel his French snootiness and while for some it might be a turn off: we found it quite entertaining.

The next day we hiked all the way up the mountain to Casa Elemento. The

Our large Finish friend Oskar
hostel is famous for its killer view of Santa Marta and its giant hammocks that look like spider webs full of backpackers. We hiked a little further to the pinos (pines) at the peak of the mountain before heading down the mountain, saying our goodbyes at la Fuente and heading back towards Santa Marta. We decided to stay the night in Taganga, a little town next to Santa Marta that was filled with your stereotypical backpacker types. It did the trick for us though. We got a bed for $10 a night in a hostel directly on the beach. After going on a quick sunset cruise and eating some fish tacos, we decided to get some rest because our shuttle was coming between 8:30 and 9:00 the next morning to pick us up for the trek. (Rest in this case was staying out until 3:00 in the morning. Our hike the next day would have gone a lot better without this part of the story.)

So 8:00 rolled around, the bus arrived on time and we were on our way to the office to finish up the paperwork for the trek. We then headed to our truck which was

...why did they build this so far away from everything?
already filled with a group of Finish guys and a chatty French Canadian lad. Luckily, because I was the last person at the truck, I got the front seat. (If I had gotten their first I also would have been in the front seat) I tried to sleep as much as I could but the Quebecer behind me had obviously been smarter the night before and was keen on conversation. After two hours of drifting in and out of sleep, we arrived to the small town that would be the point of origin for the four-day trek through the jungle. We all sat down at the lunch table and ate our first meal together as a complete “team”. We had quite the eclectic group – 3 Americans, 2 Danes, 5 Fins and 1 French-Canadian. From that first team meal, together I couldn’t have anticipated how we would get to know each other of the next 4 days in the jungle. I did know that it was going to be interesting though after one of the Fins began referring to his group as the Gay Wolf Pack. I insisted that being a gay wolf pack was not anything special so the

La Ciudad Perdida
Gay Vegan Wolf Pack was born.

After lunch, we began the first day which was supposed to be difficult because it was mostly uphill, but with our added handicap from the night before, it proved to be even more challenging. Shortly after starting we saw a group of trekkers running down the mountain which made no sense to me at the time -- four days in the jungle will change your sense of reasoning though. That first night we enjoyed a typical Colombian meal and washed the day’s dirt away in the dark, frigid showers. The girls chose to sleep in beds while I took the more adventurous option of a hammock. I fell asleep immediately and only woke up once when the Fin next to me lit up a joint at 3:00 in the morning. At 5:00 I was greeted with the jungle “rise and shine” -- a firm kick in the hammock. Typical Colombian breakfast, a few cups of coffee and we were off for our first full day hike in the jungle. The trail was mostly mud and extremely steep. Every 2 hours or so we would have a break which would either be eating fresh

The 5 Original Gay Vegan Wolves
fruit or going swimming in the river. By the end of the 2nd day we were 1 km from the start of the stairs leading to the Lost City. Once we arrived at the camp we were definitely feeling the almost 23 km that we had put behind us – some more than others (Aya). Once at the camp we ate our typical Colombian meal with a special appetizer of popcorn, had a few beers and then jumped into the hammocks to prepare for the 1200 stair staircase that lead up to the city. By this time, our group had bonded pretty well but thanks to the narrow spacing of the hammocks I spent most of the night “safe” snuggling with my hammock neighbor, one of our Finish friends, Temo.

The next morning after receiving the jungle “rise and shine”, typical Colombian breakfast and a few cups of coffee we headed up the largest staircase I had ever ascended. Somewhere around stair 1120 it occurred to me that we were just now at the deepest point we would reach in the jungle which also meant that we were just half way done. It also occurred to me that 4

Typical house of the indigenous people
days in the jungle is a lot longer in practice than on internet brochures or Tripadvisor reviews.

We finally made it! The pinnacle of our journey. Our little guide Miguel began sharing with us the story behind the Lost City and other details about the indigenous people who inhabit the area often interjecting with his cartoony laugh. For the most part what he shared was interesting but what he took 30 minutes to tell, could have easily been condensed into 10 minutes or 1 clap. After taking our pictures and criticizing others for doing the same, we headed back down to camp to pick up our backpacks and begin the 23-km trail back to civilization. We began the trail back as different people than those who started 2 days before. I had only brought minimal clothing so I stunk like a stunk; Jelena, being as sweet as she is, was covered in bug bites and Aya had used up 95% percent of her determination getting to the lost city, not leaving much to get back.

I stayed back with Aya as she struggled to put one foot in front of the other, telling her that the hill we

Sunset Cruise in Taganga
were climbing was the last one (sometimes blatant lies help the psyche). Aya’s face was completely devoid of emotion and at this point in the trip we had not seen her smile in 3 days. That all changed though when she found out she could skip the last 2 hours of the trek by being taking down on a motorcycle. As she drove down the mountain she looked like she been saved from certain death. As for the rest of us we still had 2 hours to go... or 2 hours for normal people. After taking a 15-minute break with the group I decided to start running down the mountain. I finally understood why those poor souls that we saw on the first day were running so desperately. At first there were 3 of us running; myself, Migi and Fred. Fred apparently didn’t know what he had signed up for and was the first to stop. Then about 5 minutes later Migi gave up to. I continued running down the mountain until I came upon Jelena, who had skipped the earlier break in the hopes that she would be the first of the group to legitimately finish the trek. After

Beautiful Sunset in Taganga
letting her know that there was no way I was gonna let her win, Migi, the Fin who I was running with earlier finally caught up to us. We all started running, knowing that there was no more than 2 km left until the building that marked the starting point. It was clear that the race was between Migi and I, so after putting a comfortable lead between us and Jelena, we decided we would calmly walk through the village and call it a gentlemen’s tie. That all changed when we heard heavy footsteps descending the cobblestone behind us. Jelena thought she could use the element of surprise to steal the title from us – not a chance. Migi and I were off like two bats out of hell. Now we were running at a full out sprint. As we tore around the finally corner the local billiards bar that was full of locals erupted into cheering. Migi was in the lead but I was quickly closing in. He mistakenly stopped at the wrong house but quickly corrected his mistake meaning that we reached the house where we started about the same time (but if it were an Olympic event I would have won).

We made it! Though saying it this time was much more satisfying than saying it at the Lost City. We took the 2-hour transport back to Santa Marta and decided to stay the night with the Finnish guys at their hostel. It felt so good being back in society. Not having any clean clothes, I decided to go find a department store and buy myself a new outfit. Walking through the streets: being as dirty and stinky as I was, I attracted a lot of stares. Finding clothes that didn’t make me look like cheesy reggaetón rapper turned out to be difficult but I finally found a store that I thought would work. Once inside I was having difficulty finding what I wanted in my size until a cute Colombian starting helping me. After around 15 minutes she had put 2 somewhat decent outfits together that fit me. I thanked her, checked out and went back to the hostel to start the festivities. Running with the Gay Vegan Wolfpack felt good that night until my 5:00 AM alarm went off reminding me that we needed to catch the bus to Cartagena. At around 5:15 AM I decided to check our plane tickets making sure that we would make the 2:30 flight. It was then that I noticed an important detail that had escaped me earlier… the plane was departing the next day. So, we went to Santa Marta, stayed in a sweet, non-backpacker hotel and got to go to our favorite cerviche place one last time. Sometimes mistakes prove to be exactly what was supposed to have happen.



Once back in Medellin, we checked back into the Happy Buddha and started our goodbye tour. It was sad reminiscing over the past two weeks but we were glad for the opportunity to spend the time together discovering such a wonderful country. The last hours of the girls’ trip were spent in a tattoo studio getting tattoos to commemorate the trip. We said goodbye as they rushed off in a cab to the airport. It was hard to see them go but it was bittersweet because it marked the start of my time in Colombia as more than just a tourist.

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